Apr 25th 2021

 Theater of the mind: The world of hallucinations

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations.

We don’t hear much about these fantasies because patients tend to hide their experiences, afraid to be labeled “bonkers”, as the late Dr. Oliver Sacks charmingly put it. They creep up on you unannounced, drawing you into their world of shadows and ghosts. Even Dr. Sacks had trouble finding simple explanations for these phenomena. In a televised discussion of brain research shortly before he died, he acknowledged that the human mind behaves in ways that are still poorly understood. Hallucinations “don’t seem to be of our creation,” he said. “They seem to come from outside, and they are not under our control.”

Some professionals call hallucinations “The theater of the mind”.

My experience in this theater was compounded by a virulent strain of gastro-intestinal infection that hit France during the winter of 2021. I ended up dehydrated, a frequent prelude to visual hallucinations.

My doctor tried to rehydrate me by hanging one-liter bags of saline solution on a drip tree at my bedside plugged into my left thigh.  The bags were replaced daily with fresh water. The only notable effect on me was a continuous urge to drain my body’s natural urges. I filled most of the pots and pans from my kitchen at odd hours of the night.

CASE STUDY -- My hallucinatory images usually started without warning. The curved wall of my bedroom flattened out and five picture frames flipped into a smooth silver screen, perfect for the movies. As I watched the action, I realized I was seeing a fanciful sequel to “Wild River”, a Hollywood romance set during the construction of the Tennessee Valley Authority electrification project. Lee Remick and Montgomery Clift fell in love among the dirt-poor Tennessee hillbillies while trying to talk sense in their disjointed world.

CASE STUDY – Much of Dr. Sacks’ interviewing took place in moving cars. One lady in her 90s reported “seeing” her car heading forward along five parallel roads. A teen-aged boy was riding on the hood of the lead car. As the five roads merged into one, the boy shot into the air about 100 feet straight up where he disappeared into the night. She found this curious but not particularly disturbing.

CASE STUDY -- Much of the dialogue around these adventures was audible to me.  One sharecropper had just moved into a small cabin with an electric light switch on the wall. “Well… Who’d-a thought of that,” he said in amazement to an empty room. In the distance across the river I could see Thelma Ritter in a rickety rocking chair, about to be flooded out of house and home to fill a dam downstream She looked mad as hell.

CASE STUDY – Spontaneous and unrelated images flashed in and out of view, one particularly obscure. Strange forces had rearranged the walls of my bedroom so that I was hanging on a meat hook and my television set was illuminated on the “floor” below. The brain tried to make sense of this, allowing me to believe it yet grasp that it was outside the realm of reality. Brain researchers have determined that hallucinations often mimic reality but with significant variations.

CASE STUDY -- Late one night the subject matter became more current. I saw fragments of a film my mind invented titled “The Day After John Kennedy was Shot.” I was following a shadowy Jacqueline Kennedy dressed in black, walking alone down Pennsylvania Avenue, strangers standing still in the street. One was an attractive brunette, probably the pianist Hélène Grimaud, taking an oversized pet for a midnight stroll. The pet was bigger than she was. It turned out to be a wolf on a silver chain. All this seemed perfectly natural.

CASE SUDY – Hélène and I came upon a road block where two or three White House aides were discussing the events of the day. They were upset that the president’s doctor had just perished in a violent car accident. The doctor under discussion was identified as “Timmy Tommy O’Donnell.”

CASE STUDY – Later that night the scene changed again. On the wall there appeared a tiny door that opened silently as a priest about three feet tall stepped forward on to an empty altar. He never seemed to do anything but he gave off evil vibes. Dr. Sacks had noted in his book “Hallucinations” that much of the movement in these little stories are extremely boring. Nothing much happens. The real me approached the midget priest and I shouted “Begone”. The Biblical reference must have frightened him. He disappeared instantly and he never returned.

CASE STUDY – Boston guitarist Paul Rodriguez underwent heart surgery and two months of recovery interrupted with frequent hallucinations. He recalls feeling he was in the lower decks of a large ship. The ship visited tropical isles such as Hawaii, sometimes reliving parades and other scenes from the American civil war, other times “floating in space”. 

CASE STUDY -- Death came and went, leading Rodriguez to think, “So this is how it ends.” Yet he never felt fear. At other times he found himself talking to a dog’s shadow. As he entered bars and restaurants he recognized nurses and doctors as bartenders and waitresses. He came and went into neighborhoods where he grew up. “I was definitely in another world,” he recalls. 

A friend who enjoyed hearing of these fantastical adventures found humor in the stories. “I felt I wanted to bang my head against the wall so I could enjoy this new world.”

 

END

 

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "